Approximately 48% of charter schools are authorized by local educational agencies (LEAs). Authorizers are the entities granted jurisdiction by a legislature to approve, oversee, and renew charter schools. These are typically public agencies, such as local school districts (i.e. LEAs) and state departments of education (also referred to as state educational agencies or SEAs). In some states, however, the legislature may grant non-educational governmental agencies (i.e. a municipality or mayor's office; NEGs), higher education institutions (HEIs), independent charter boards (ICBs), and/or non-profit organizations (NPOs) authorizing ability as well.

Authorizers play an important role in the charter sector. These entities decide whether or not a school may open, what standards must be met for it to remain open, and have the power to determine if a school must close. Charter schools must demonstrate success in order to retain and renew their charter, and authorizers hold these schools to the same (or often higher) accountability standards as their district-run peers. The National Alliance’s model law recommends a state allow multiple authorizer entities (i.e. grant an authorizing body other than just the LEAs authorizing ability). However, to date, 14 states only offer one authorizing option, and eight only allow LEAs to authorize charter schools. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers defines which types of authorizers are allowed and operating in each state in their helpful resource Authorizer Types Across the Country.

LEA authorizers enrolled the largest share of charter school students (49%) in the 2018-19 school year, and oversaw 48.4% of all charter schools. LEAs are also overwhelmingly the most prevalent type of authorizer, with nearly 90% of the 963 authorizers across the country being LEAs. However, despite the overall prominence of LEAs, SEAs, and ICBs hold a higher concentration of authorizing power per entity. Although there are only 21 SEA authorizers nationwide, these entities enroll 22.1% of charter students and oversee 21.3% of charter schools and campuses. Similarly, ICBs authorize approximately 15% of student enrollment, as well as approximately 15% of schools and campuses. NPO authorizers only exist in Ohio and Minnesota, while the two NEG authorizers only operate in Indiana, which likely explains why those two entity types are rarest overall.

Table 6.1 Authorizer Type by Count of Authorizers, Enrollment Share, and School and Campus Share, 2018-19

Authorzier Type Count of Authorizers Enrollment Share School and Campus Share
HEI 44 10.4% 9.9%
ICB 18 14.9% 15.1%
LEA 863 49.0% 48.4%
MUN 2 0.6% 0.6%
NFP 15 2.7% 4.7%
SEA 21 22.1% 21.3%

Higher Education Institution (HEI), Independent Chartering Board (ICB), Local Educational Agency (LEA), Non-Educational Government Entity (NEG), Nonprofit Organization (NPO), State Educational Agency (SEA)

The top 10 LEA, SEA, ICB, and HEI authorizers with the largest total enrollment account for 56% of all charter school students. To that end, we have listed these entities in the tables below. Top 10 lists for NPO and NEG authorizers are not included in this analysis due to their small overall size.

The largest LEA authorizer by enrollment total is the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”). With 154,006 students, LAUSD alone accounts for nearly 5% of the nation’s charter school students. Unsurprisingly however, the LEA authorizers with highest enrollment levels are those located in dense urban areas or highly populated counties with many charter schools.

Table 6.2 Top 10 LEA Authorizers by Total Enrollment, 2018-19

The largest SEA authorizer by enrollment total is the Texas Education Agency (“TEA”). TEA accounts for 88% of Texas charter school students, which is significant given the state’s status as one of the biggest charter sectors nationwide. Overall, TEA enrolls approximately 9.5% of charter school students in the United States. The North Carolina Department of Education, New Jersey Department of Education, and Massachusetts Department of Education, which also have some of the highest enrollment levels, each account for 99-100% of charter students in their states.

Table 6.3 Top 10 SEA Authorizers

The Arizona State Board for Charter schools (“ASBCS”) is by far the most prominent ICB authorizer as of the 2018-19 school year. ASBCS enrolls 205,148 charter school students, which is approximately 6.2% of all charter students nationwide and almost 99% of all charter students in the state of Arizona. Other top ICBs also appear to be the primary authorizers in their respective states. The Utah State Charter Board, Nevada State Public Charter Authority, and the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board each account for approximately 80%-100% of charter school students in their jurisdictions. In this way, many ICBs appear similar to SEAs in that they are broad, state-wide charter authorizers.

Table 6.4 Top 10 ICB Authorizers

For HEI authorizers, New York’s SUNY Charter Schools Institute had substantially the greatest total enrollment for the 2018-19 school year. With 90,791 students, the SUNY Charter Schools Institute comprises nearly 3% of nationwide charter enrollment and nearly 62% of New York charter enrollment. While HEI authorizers in general only make up about 10% of the charter sector in terms of both schools and students, it is notable to point out that six of the top 10 HEI authorizing agencies are based out of Michigan.

Table 6.5 Top 10 HEI Authorizers

Notes: Based on author's calculations using data from NACSA for the 2018-19 school year. Municipal and nonprofit authorizers were excluded from this analysis because of size.

About the Authors

Jamison White
Jamison White

Sr. Manager, Data & Research

Before joining the National Alliance in 2017, Jamison worked as a financial and small-business consultant in Pittsburgh, Boston, and the greater New York area. Jamison studied at Carnegie Mellon University and Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany. He is a part of a founding group for a classical charter school in Washington, DC. In his free time, Jamison researches school curricula, pedagogies, and charter school models.

Jessica Snydman
Jessica Snydman

Data and Research Specialist

Prior to joining the National Alliance, Jessica held internships with Girl Scouts of the U.S.A’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office and Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2). She also worked for the legal firm Krooth & Altman, LLP in D.C., assisting with numerous HUD multifamily affordable housing deals. Jessica is a Baltimore native and a passionate advocate for students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD, having centered the bulk of her academic and professional efforts on supporting the needs of neurodiverse learners. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Dickinson College, and her master’s degree in Education Policy Studies from The George Washington University.